Grey Data


greɪ ˈdeɪtə

A term for data accumulated by an institution for operational purposes and does not fall under any traditional data protection policies.

Organizations across all sectors accumulate a massive amount of data just by virtue of operating alone, and universities are among such organizations. In a paper, Christine L. Borgman categorizes these as grey data and further suggested that universities should take a lead in demonstrating stewardship of these data, which include student applications, faculty dossier, registrar records, ID card data, security cameras, and many others.

“Some of these data are collected for mandatory reporting obligations such as enrollments, diversity, budgets, grants, and library collections. Many types of data about individuals are collected for operational and design purposes, whether for instruction, libraries, travel, health, or student services.” (Borgman, p. 380)

Grey data typically does not fall under traditional data protection policies such as Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), or Institutional Review Boards. Consequently, there are a lot of debates about how to use (or misuse) them. Borgman points out that universities have been “exploiting these data for research, learning analytics, faculty evaluation, strategic decisions, and other sensitive matters.” On top of this, for-profit companies “are besieging universities with requests for access to data or for partnerships to mine them.”

Recognizing both the value of data and the risks arising from the accumulation of grey data, Borgman proposes a model of Data Stewardship by drawing on the practices of data protection in the University of California which concern information security, data governance, and cyber risk.

This model is an example of a good Data Stewardship practice that the GovLab is advocating amidst the rise of public-private collaboration in leveraging data for public good.

The GovLab’s Data Stewards website presents the need for such practice as follows:

“With these new practices of data collaborations come the need to reimagine roles and responsibilities to steer the process of using private data, and the insights it can generate, to address some of society’s biggest questions and challenges: Data Stewards.

“Today, establishing and sustaining these new collaborative and accountable approaches requires significant and time-consuming effort and investment of resources for both data holders on the supply side, and institutions that represent the demand. By establishing Data Stewardship as a function, recognized within the private sector as a valued responsibility, the practice of Data Collaboratives can become more predictable, scaleable, sustainable and de-risked.”

Resources:

Borgman, C. L. (2018). Open Data, Grey Data, and Stewardship: Universities at the Privacy Frontier. ArXiv. https://doi.org/10.15779/Z38B56D489

Young, A. (2018, November 26). About the Data Stewards Network. Retrieved March 6, 2019, from https://medium.com/data-stewards-network/about-the-data-stewards-network-1cb9db0c0792